Invasion fears lead to rebels in Ukraine ordering troop mobilization



KYIV, Ukraine — On Saturday, a separatist leader in eastern Ukraine called for a full mobilization of military forces. This comes amid violence that has been rising in war-torn Ukraine. The West is concerned that Russia could use this as an excuse to invade.

Denis Pushilin is the leader of the pro-Russian separatist government for the Donetsk area. He released a statement Saturday, announcing a complete troop mobilization and asking reservists not to miss military enlistment office.

This announcement was made as the mass evacuation of elderly, children, and women from rebel-held territories in Donetsk and Luhansk regions to Russia was under way.

U.S. President Joe Biden said Friday he was now “convinced” Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to invade Ukraine and assault the capital.

After several weeks of claiming that the U.S. wasn’t sure if Putin had made the final call, Biden stated that his judgment had changed, citing American intelligence.

“As of this moment, I’m convinced he’s made the decision,” Biden said. “We have reason to believe that.” He reiterated that the assault could occur in the “coming days.”

The White House comments were made by the president following a day marked by rising violence. These included the destruction of a humanitarian convoy and the car bombing of Donetsk’s eastern city. Pro-Russian rebels began evacuating civilians from the conflict zone with an announcement that appeared to be part of Moscow’s efforts to paint Ukraine as the aggressor instead.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin announced massive nuclear drills to flex its military muscle, and Putin pledged to protect Russia’s national interests against what it sees as encroaching Western threats.

Biden reiterated the threat of imposing severe economic and diplomatic sanctions on Russia if it invades, and pressured Putin to reconsider. He stated that the U.S., its Western allies and Russia were stronger than ever to make sure Russia pays a heavy price for any invasion.

Another indication that the Russians are planning a major military push is the fact that an American defense official claimed that 40% to 50% (or more) of the Ukrainian ground forces have moved closer to the border to attack positions. Other officials said that the shift has been occurring for around a week and does not necessarily indicate that Putin is ready to invade. To discuss internal U.S. military assessments, the defense official spoke under anonymity.

According to the official, the number and type of Russian ground units (known as battalion tac groups) in the border area has increased to 125 from 83 two-weeks ago. Each group has between 750 and 1,000 soldiers.

There are still communication lines: Friday’s talks between the U.S. Defense Chiefs and Russian Defense Chiefs were open. Sergey Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken agreed to meet next week.

Concerns are immediate about eastern Ukraine. There, pro-Russian rebels have been fighting Ukrainian forces since 2014. This conflict has resulted in the deaths of around 14,000 people. With an estimated 150,000 Russian troops now posted around Ukraine’s borders, the long-simmering separatist conflict could provide the spark for a broader attack.

Friday’s violence intensified fears of an escalation. According to an Associated Press journalist, a bombing hit a car near the main government building of the rebel-held city Donetsk. According to Interfax, Denis Sinenkov (head of separatist forces), the car was his.

There was no evidence of injuries or casualties, and there was no independent confirmation about the circumstances of this blast. While shelling and shooting are common along a line that divides Ukrainian forces from rebels, targeted violence is uncommon in rebel-held cities.

Two explosions rattled the rebel-controlled Luhansk city on Saturday morning, adding to tensions. According to the Luhansk Information Center, one blast was in a natural-gas main. Witnesses claimed that the other was at an automobile service station. There was no immediate information on the injuries or cause. Officials in Luhansk blamed the incident on sabotage.

On Friday, more than 600 explosions were reported by monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Separatists from the Luhansk-Donetsk regions, which form Ukraine’s industrial heartland, announced that they would be evacuating civilians to Russia.

Pushilin is the head of Donetsk’s rebel government. He claimed that children, women and elderly would be the first to go and that Russia had prepared facilities. Pushilin stated in a video, that Volodymyr Zeleskyy, Ukrainian President was planning to launch an attack in the area.

The Associated Press confirmed that metadata from two videos posted on separatists’ website announcing the evacuation shows that the files were created two day ago. The United States authorities claim that the Kremlin could have used prerecorded videos in its disinformation campaign.

Children were moved from Donetsk’s orphanage and others boarded buses to Russia by authorities. As more people left on their own, long lines formed at gas stations.

Putin directed the government to pay 10,000 rubles (about $130), to each evacuee. This is roughly half the average monthly salary in war-ravaged Donbas.

Separatist officials claim that more than 6,600 people from rebel-controlled areas had been evacuated by Saturday morning to Russia.

The evacuations announced and the explosions were in compliance with U.S. warnings regarding so-called false-flag strikes that Russia could use for justification of an invasion.

Around the volatile line of contact, a United Nations humanitarian convoy came under rebel shelling in the Luhansk region, Ukraine’s military chief said. There were no reported casualties. The rebels denied any involvement and accused Ukraine for staging a provocative act.

Ukraine denies planning an offensive.

“We are fully committed to diplomatic conflict resolution only,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the threat to global security is “more complex and probably higher” than during the Cold War. At a Munich security conference, Guterres stated that even a minor error in communication between major powers can have devastating consequences.

Russia declared this week that it would withdraw its troops from massive military exercises. But U.S. officials stated they didn’t see any signs of a pullback, and instead observed more troops heading toward the border to Ukraine.

In other developments, the White House and the U.K. formally blamed Russia for recent cyberattacks targeting Ukraine’s defense ministry and major banks. This was the most direct statement of responsibility for the intrusions. The hackers bombarded websites with junk data in an effort to render them unreachable. Russia denied the allegations.

The Kremlin issued a reminder to the entire world about its nuclear power, announcing weekend drills for its nuclear forces. Putin will be present to monitor the practice missile launches and will also supervise it.

Asked about Western warnings of a possible Russian invasion on Wednesday that did not materialize, Putin said: “There are so many false claims, and constantly reacting to them is more trouble than it’s worth.”

“We are doing what we consider necessary and will keep doing so,” he said. “We have clear and precise goals conforming to national interests.”

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